Former Stoke’s Top Talent finalist Joel Harper-Jackson is returning to The Regent Theatre in the lead role of an Olivier award-winning musical.
The 26-year-old – who also used to work front-of-house at the venue – will perform as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots during its UK tour.
Featuring songs by Cyndi Lauper, the show tells of Charlie’s struggles to live up to the expectations of his father, and carry on the family shoe factory in Northampton – until transvestite cabaret performer Lola comes along and they save the business from closure by making ‘kinky boots’.
Joel, originally from Mow Cop, impressed Stoke’s Top Talent judges at his audition in 2010 with a rendition of Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever. He went on to finish in second place, after his performance of Gethsemane, from Jesus Christ Superstar, in the final.
The actor caught the performing bug while studying at Congleton High School, and was part of youth theatre groups Curtain Call in Crewe and SCAMPS in Alderley Edge.
After studying at The Hammond in Chester for three years, Joel embarked on a sparkling theatrical career. Highlights have included performing in the UK tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He was also part of the original cast for Carole King musical Beautiful in London’s West End.
The 26-year-old said: “It’s going to be so, so strange coming back to The Regent. But I’m so excited to do it – and to have my own dressing room, when before, I was selling ice-creams!
“I have so many friends around Stoke-on-Trent. I go to The Regent every Christmas to watch the panto and sometimes see a few familiar faces behind the bar.
“I’ve never played anything this massive. I was originally going to be a property developer with my dad. But I had a singing teacher who told me about an amateur dramatics show coming up so I went, got the main part, and from there was offered a scholarship at The Hammond.
“I never thought I would make it, but I was encouraged by my music and drama teachers at Congleton High School – Charlotte Blundred, Katherine Martin and Gill Davies.”
One of Joel’s first professional acting jobs was as part of the ensemble in a UK tour of Rent.
“One of the first venues we did with the show was Stoke-on-Trent. The show wasn’t selling too well, so I was given about 50 free tickets and all my friends came. That was quite special.”
Although he’s used to touring the country, Joel hopes that once his stint in Kinky Boots is over, he’ll be able to get a home in Mow Cop.
He said: “My sister still lives here and I miss it. After this job, I should be able to afford to get a place around here, hopefully in Mow Cop.”
He thinks Stoke-on-Trent theatre-goers will really warm to Kinky Boots.
“Kinky Boots is about acceptance, and embracing everything about yourself,” he added. “It’s such a lovely and heart-warming show, with the message that we are all the same, we all want to be loved.
“A lot of it is very relatable to me, like the relationship between Charlie and his dad. It’s quite a juicy part, quite different to other parts I’ve played.
“I’ve never had to wear high heels that big – but then he has to look like he can’t walk in them!
“When I’ve seen it in the West End, the response from the audience has been ecstatic. I think people in Stoke-on-Trent will like the escapism, but also that the story is about normal people working in a factory. Every venue will love it, but Stoke-on-Trent will definitely be up for it.”
Mum Ruth Harper-Jackson said she always knew her son would be a star.
The 54-year-old, from Higher Poynton, said: “Joel was one of those children who could never settle on a hobby, but I knew since he was a young lad he would be successful at musical theatre.
“He discovered acting at Congleton High School and, when I went to pick him up from a school trip in Conwy, where they were doing performing arts, I remember his drama teacher Gill putting her head through the car window and saying ‘your son is going to be a superstar’. He is very hard working.
“I have seen the show before, and the film, so I love it and thought it was fantastic when he got the part. We’re all just very proud of him.”
Joel’s sister Jade, aged 29, from Mow Cop, added: “I didn’t see this happening, but Joel is determined, and when he moved to London I knew he was serious about his acting career.
“I don’t get the chance to go to London very much because I have children, so it’s good he’s coming back to Stoke-on-Trent so we can watch him.”
Kinky Boots runs at tTe Regent Theatre from January 28 to February 9, 2019. Tickets are on sale now and available from The Regent Theatre box office counter, by calling 0844 871 7649 or visiting atgtickets.com/stoke.
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